writer and teacher

November 12th. 1936 (Juneau, Alaska) — November 12th. 2004 (Marina del Rey, California)

Photograph by Alastair Johnston, 1987 (copyright © Alastair Johnston 1987, 2004)

There is an excellent piece on Lucia by Alastair here. On the first page click on the Lucia Berlin link in the left-hand column.
Obituaries from the Rocky Mountain News and the Boulder Daily Camera
There are plain-text versions here: Rocky and Camera

Lucia Berlin died on her birthday: a tragic completion. Jumping around in memories the next day I realised there were none, from mid-1970s California to 21st century Colorado, in which she was not laughing. I remember her pleasure in San Francisco when Holbrook Teter and Michael Myers printed her first book of stories A Manual for Cleaning Ladies (and there it is in the Serendipity Catalog for $75), the first of many remarkable collections. Her delight in teaching, during those Colorado years, earned and echoed the affection and devotion of several generations of students. She gleamed when a lesser spirit would have turned dully inward. Lucia was an emotionally observant story-teller who could write: rare for all cards to be in the same hand. She is to be missed: her books are to be read.

Three photos (circa 1990, 1993, 1999) scanned by Jennifer Heath from Lucia's books:

from Robert Creeley, Providence, Monday November 15th.
What a bleak end to such a generous life it has to seem.

from Stephen Emerson, Oakland, Thursday November 18th.
... on the jacket of Lucia's Phantom Pain, that would be the jacket I designed: "Lucia Berlin was born in Alaska, raised in Chile..."
Black Sparrow: "... born in Alaska. As a child she lived in mining camps in Idaho, Montana, and Arizona, but spent most of her childhood in Chile."

Here's the inscription in Homesick: "I was going to lend you this, but thought better of it."

from Stephen Emerson, Oakland, Friday November 19th.

(Copyright © Lucia Berlin, the Estate of Lucia Berlin, 2004)

from David Mulholland, Los Angeles, Tuesday November 23rd.
I was a student of Lucia's at CU in Boulder. She was an inspiration who believed in my writing when no one else did. It's because of her that I am in the mess I am in. I am 30 years old now, can't pay my bills, have worked a string of dead end jobs, but I have been writing every free minute. I have no regrets, except for not keeping in touch better. We exchanged letters a few times, but not in a few years. Anyway, I am afraid I have learned the sad news too late.

from Dale Herd, USA, Thursday, November 23rd.
The best way to remember Lucia Berlin is to read her stories. Then you'll never forget her.

from Jim Nisbet, San Francisco, November 29th.
Very nice couple of hours with David and Jeff Berlin and miscellaneous family and friends of Lucia Friday evening at David's home in Concord. Lucia's niece, Monica, was there from Mexico City; Steve Emerson and Gayle Davies, Alastair Johnston and Frances Butler, Gloria Frym, Barry Gifford, others whom I didn't get to meet or talk to. Plenty of food and drink and kids all over the place, big pool out back, 36,000 gallons of water strewn with leaves, too much water to heat, and palm trees on the property line.

On the mantlepiece was a display of candlelit photographs of Lucia, notably one of her as a little girl on somebody's front steps in a short dress with a bandage on one knee. David told me that she had in fact recently been fitted for a back brace when that photo was taken, which was why she's standing so straight. There were some of her books, too, as well as two Jim Thompson novels: A Swell Looking Babe, and A Hell of a Woman.

There was a video as well, consisting of two parts: Bobbie Louise's transferred Super-8 footage from I think it was 1963 in Albuquerque. The second part was very recent, of Lucia sitting in a sunlit apartment reading a medley of selections from her stories. She was wearing her oxygen tube but looked great in fact, always that smile, paging through her books and making funny and accurate and humorously self-deprecating prefatory remarks as she'd often do to introduce a reading. Her voice took over the room and that was that. Lovely assessment in that sequence too of her long-standing relations and correspondance with Kenward Elmslie.

And finally a fine drive back to Berkeley and San Francisco with Barry, talking about it all and telling Lucia stories and getting good and lost in the dark east and north of Concord somewhere. Or was it south and west. Sky overcast by a big storm moving in, backlit by a full moon, foothills near and far limned in varying shades of palest greens and blues and grays. We're lost. Don't worry, man, it's California; there'll be a freeway eventually. And so there was — at Martinez! So it was north and west after all...

from Stephen Emerson, Oakland, December 1st.

(Copyright © Lucia Berlin, the Estate of Lucia Berlin, 2004)

from Will Christopher Baer, California, December 7th.
A note on Lucia from his author's log.

from Mark Berlin, California, December 9th.


My first memory is of Lucia's voice, reading to my brother Jeff and me. It didn't matter what the story was because each night held a tale in her soft sing-song blend of Texas and Santiago, Chile. Songs like "Red River Valley." Cultured, but folksy — thankfully lacking her mother's El Paso twang.

I am perhaps the last person to have talked to her, and she again read to me. I don't remember what ( a book review, a bit from the hundreds of manuscripts people asked her to read, a postcard?), just her clear, loving voice, swirls of incense, wisps of sunset, both of us sitting in silence afterwards staring at her bookcase. Just knowing the power and beauty of the words on those shelves. Something to savor and ponder.

Along with humor and writing, I inherited from her a bad back, and we would groan and laugh in unison or harmony as we reached for more Cambazola, a cracker or grape. Griping about medications and side-effects. We laughed about the first precept of Buddhism: Life is suffering. And the Mexican attitude that life is cheap, but it sure can be fun.

As a young mother she strolled us through the streets of New York: to museums, to meet other writers, to see a letterpress in action and painters at work, to hear jazz.

And then we were suddenly in Acapulco, then Albuquerque. First stops on a life that averaged about nine months in any abode. Yet home was always her, the range of her voice and love.

Living in Mexico scared her witless. Scorpions, intestinal worms, falling coconuts, corrupt police and eager dope dealers; but as we reminisced the day before her birthday: we had somehow survived.

Heck, she outlived at least three husbands and God knows how many lovers; doctors had told her at fourteen that she would never have children and wouldn't live past thirty! She bore four sons, of which I'm the oldest and most trouble, and we were all hell to raise. But she did it. And well.

Much has been made of her alcoholism and she had to struggle against the shame it brought her, but in the end she lived nearly twenty years sober, producing her best work and inspiring a chunk of the new generation with her teaching. The latter no surprise as she had taught off and on since she was twenty.

There were tough times; dangerous even. Ma would wonder aloud why no one came and took us kids away when it was really bad for her. I dunno, we came out okay. We all would have withered in suburbia; we were the Berlin Bunch.

"Fraught with peril" was one of Ma's recent all-purpose phrases. I'm homeless and while she enjoyed some of my tales from the underworld, she did worry about me sleeping on concrete with crackheads, schizophrenics and gutter drunks (although that's only ten-percent of the urban campers). Moms do worry, and she was a great mom. She also knew that I would survive, that I would keep writing and making art.

Much of our experience is unbelievable. The stories she could have told. Like the time she went skinny dipping in Oaxaca on mushrooms with a painter friend. They freaked out when they emerged from the water, green head-to-toe from copper in the stream. I can only imagine how that looked with her pink rebozo! I won't even try to do a sound bite about the junkie recovery colony outside Albuquerque (see her story "Strays"), but imagine Luis Buñuel and Quentin Tarantino doing a movie inside a movie involving sixty hardcore ex-cons, Angie Dickenson, Leslie Neilson, a dozen sci-fi zombies and the afore mentioned Berlin Bunch.

My favorite memory is of a sunset in Yelapa glinting off Buddy Berlin's saxophone, swirls of bebop and wood smoke as Ma cooked dinner on a comal, her face radiant in the coral light, flamingos fishing akimbo in the lagoon outside, the sound of surf and pinging frogs, our feet crunching on the coarse sand floor. Doing our homework by lamplight and scratchy Billie Holliday.

Ma wrote true stories, not necessarily autobiographical, but close enough for horseshoes. Our family stories and memories have been slowly reshaped, embellished and edited to the extent that I'm not sure what really happened all the time. Lucia said this didn't matter: the story is the thing.

Please, please let us all have more fantastic memories and write as well as we can of them.

from Jennifer Heath and Jack Collom, Boulder, December 20th.

A Tribute to Lucia Berlin.

Monday Dec 20th from 8-9pm (MNT time) (that's 7pm California; 3am December 21st. GMT)

88.5 FM, Boulder
1390 AM, Denver


We hope you have a moment to tune into Art Aloud on Monday evening.
We'll present a Tribute for Lucia Berlin. In the studio to reflect
and celebrate Lucia's life, and reading, will be
Jennifer Dorn, Jane Wodening, Keith Abbott, & Bobbie Louise Hawkins.

Please tune in from 8-9pm


Happy Holidays!!

from Jim Nisbet, San Francisco, January 20th. 2005.
A Patch of Yellow

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